BC United's plan to deal with crime

Crime prevention plan

Over the summer, I have met with hundreds of you, and talked about your concerns.

In those coffee conversations, community gatherings, meetings, and even at the local grocery store, issues about safety and crime echoed loud and clear.

And there are things being done about it.

Recent news celebrated the fact that open drug use is no longer legal within 15 meters of playgrounds, skate parks or splash parks. This was something I and my BC United colleagues had asked for since decriminalization was brought in by the B.C. government in January.

The Kelowna Mayor Tom Dyas has initiated a task force on community crime and is trying to find practical solutions for the crime we see on our streets. This task force is a group of uniquely equipped concerned citizens, like former RCMP officers, retired justice employees and non-profit executive directors.

Last week was a bad one for crime on the streets of B.C., as we heard about three people who were stabbed at the Light Up Chinatown Festival (in Vancouver).

The system has failed us, and something has to change.

The premier announced a retired police chief, Bob Rich, has been hired to conduct a study to see why this happened. While we await yet another report to tell us what we already know, B.C. United, led by Kevin Falcon, released our action plan to restore public safety in B.C.

Falcon calls the plan, United for a Safer B.C. He made the following comment, which rings true because I have heard similar sentiments from the people I met with this summer.

“Under the NDP, the system is not working for anyone except criminals, while law-abiding citizens are no longer able to enjoy public parks and amenities or, in many cases, even walk in the streets without fear. Enough is enough. It is time for decisive change that balances compassion and consequences, and puts community safety ahead of a criminal’s right to re-offend. Together with our ‘Better is Possible’ mental health and addictions plan announced earlier this year, BC United’s public safety plan will deliver that change.”

So here are a few of the key initiatives found in the BC United Safer B.C. plan:

Aggressively fill the vacancies

The most resonant note in our plan is bolstering our local police force. This ambitious proposal seeks to recruit 500 new officers across the province. Breaking that down, for Kelowna, that translates to more trained eyes ensuring safety in our favourite spots: our parks, lakefront, and local businesses.

But it's not just about numbers. It’s about efficacy, dedication, and community understanding. We propose attractive incentives such as hiring bonuses and housing allowances to ensure we’re not just getting more police, but we’re attracting dedicated, community-minded individuals.

End the government’s decriminalization pilot

Our vision reflects a two-pronged approach to drugs—firmness coupled with empathy. We suggest moving away from the government’s broader decriminalization framework. The objective is to ensure beloved public spaces, from our City Park to the serene stretches of Waterfront Park, remain family-friendly and free from open drug use.

However, and this is crucial, there’s a deep vein of compassion running through this proposal. Instead of a simplistic jail-or-nothing approach, there's a strong emphasis on rehabilitation. The idea is to provide those battling addiction with pathways to healing and recovery. Such an approach not only addresses the immediate issue but ensures that, long term, we’re nurturing a community where individuals can overcome their battles and find their place constructively within our city's tapestry.

Craft a plan of accountability, while fostering community

Our plan resonates with the ethos that every action has consequences. Whether it's an unfortunate bike theft or an act of vandalism, these aren't mere statistics; they impact real lives, our lives. The drive is towards ensuring that no offence, however minor, slips through the cracks. The proposal emphasizes community service and other restorative actions that, in my belief, could further galvanize the bond of our Kelowna community.

In conclusion, the roadmap Falcon laid out is both comprehensive and attuned to local needs. While policies and plans will always have their mix of supporters and detractors, the overarching aim here is undeniable—a safer, united and thriving Kelowna.

The residents of Kelowna deserve to feel safe. And just like the Mayor’s Task Force on Crime Reduction, it’s time to try new initiatives.

My question to you is this:

What do you want the provincial government to do to restore public safety?

I love hearing from you and read every email. Please email me at [email protected] or call my office at 250-712-3620.

Renee Merrifield is the BC United MLA for Kelowna-Mission.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

B.C.'s 'new normal' in health care is not acceptable

Health care changes needed

Last week, B.C.’s health minister, Adrian Dix, alluded to the "new normal" in B.C. healthcare—packed emergency rooms, wait times spanning more than eight hours, a lack of primary care doctors, closed emergency rooms, reduced operating rooms and years on wait lists for surgeries.

Should we, as citizens, accept this as our new reality?

Imagine a mother in labour, directed away from her local hospital to a distant centre for maternity care, or a cancer patient, sent stateside because there’s no immediate availability of treatments here. These are not hypotheticals. They are the hard truths our neighbours in Kelowna and across the province are experiencing daily.

This isn't just about the inconvenience of waiting. The situation affects the core of our health. Timely surgeries, which are crucial in many cases, are being postponed due to operating rooms closing. Surgeons, who have trained for years to serve the community, find themselves unable to perform life-changing and life-saving surgeries. This is a travesty, not just for the doctors but for the countless patients who pin their hopes on these medical professionals.

The healthcare worker situation is equally dire. With a conspicuous lack of nursing staff, the burden on existing staff multiplies.

What are the repercussions of this so-called “new normal”? Burnout, reduced quality of care, and heightened risks to patient safety. As of now, staff are at the brink, their dedication pushed to its limits.

The situation is so bad, doctors are the ones sounding the alarm bell. Surgeons are writing letters, doctors are rallying in front of Surrey City Hall and the consensus is clear—the system, as it stands, is broken.

One pivotal question arises: If our healthcare model is so robust, why doesn't any other country emulate our system of care? The silence in response is telling. Which means, our system is not as good as we think it is. For the sake of Kelowna and all of BC, dramatic change is imperative.

Residents of the Okanagan and all of BC, deserve a health system that caters to their needs promptly and efficiently.

So, what can be done?

• Healthcare worker recruitment and retention—More training spaces, faster accreditation for foreign-trained workers, and a better work culture. Competitive compensation, appealing benefits, and an encouraging work environment can assure longevity and commitment.

• Funding overhaul—Instead of institutions receiving bulk funding, the dollars should follow the patient. This ensures that resources are distributed based on institutional efficiency and performance, leading to more personalized patient-centric care.

Guaranteed wait times—No patient should be left in the lurch. Instituting a guaranteed maximum wait time means outcomes will improve.

• Primary care physicians for all—Every resident deserves a primary care physician. Expanding the network ensures early diagnosis and interventions, reducing the strain on emergency services.

• More training spaces for doctors and nurses—Expanding medical training facilities ensures a consistent supply of qualified professionals. This can fill existing voids and anticipate future demands.

• Physician assistants—Introducing physician assistants can significantly augment the capacity of our healthcare system. By handling routine diagnoses and minor procedures, they can complement the roles of primary physicians and specialists.

• Increase in operating room capacity—The current state of surgeries in B.C. is far from optimal. By boosting the number and capability of operating rooms, we can ensure that patients receive timely surgical interventions.

The "new normal" pitched by the health minister is not one we should accept. It's a wake-up call, signalling the urgent need for change. We've been presented with a choice, continue down this challenging path or to pave a new way forward.

For the sake of our families, neighbours, and the generations to come, we need changes. Our very lives depend on it.

My question to you this week is this:

What do you think should be changed about our healthcare system?

I love hearing from you, and I read every email. Please email me at [email protected] or call my office at 250-712-3620.

Renee Merrifield is the BC United MLA for Kelowna-Mission.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

MLA blames government for evacuees' problems

Support system SNAFUs

Wildfires have ripped through our beautiful Okanagan, and while the smoke and flames are now smouldering and clearing, my attention is going to how people were cared for during this time.

The volunteers who stepped up were phenomenal and part of the positive aspect of our community coming together, including The Salvation Army, Red Cross, Mama’s for Mama’s, Food Banks, as well as those serving at the Emergency Support Services centre at the Royal LePage Place Arena in West Kelowna.

In emails, phone calls and messages, I've had the opportunity to hear the stories of our fellow residents who were evacuated. Many are currently grappling with bureaucratic processes, trying to secure reimbursements. Their pleas and frustrations echo the sentiments of a community feeling left behind by the very system supposed to aid them.

It's also disheartening to learn that some residents never even made it through the queue, left standing in the lurch when assistance was most crucial. There were tens of thousands of residents displaced. And not all received support. I went to the ESS at Royal LePage Place to see the process firsthand, and the stories became even more tangible. Many evacuees I spoke with were on their third or fourth visit, having driven or hitched a ride all the way from Kelowna each time.

Imagine the distress of revisiting the same place, seeking help and having to go back time and again, without any resolution. Their repeated visits are a testament to a support system that has faltered under pressure.

While the flames were fierce, the aftermath reveals the clear inefficiencies and failures of the support system implemented by the provincial government. As one of the local MLAs, I have advocated for our constituents, believing there must be a mistake on understanding.

But Emergency Management Minister Bowinn Ma has confirmed reimbursements are not part of the program and will be individually examined. That is a significant issue for those who, out of their own initiative, paid for emergency accommodations.

Ma's suggestion that ESS scheme payments were for those with immediate financial constraints seems a cold comfort for many now struggling with reimbursement. There is no definition of “need”. There is no promise of help. If you didn’t make it through the queue, you won’t get any help. If you could sleep in your car, couch surf, separate your family into three groups at different friends’ homes, does this mean you did not “need” one of the open hotel rooms in Kelowna?

The wait times were days long to even figure out the answer to that question.

The root issue was failing software and an inefficient support system. And while constructing the airplane mid-flight, the queue system was invented with colours.

While I was at the ESS, a gentleman with the correct colour was told to come back in a few hours. So he came back, not once but twice that day – desperate for answers.

I am so grateful for the local leadership of the ESS that kept trying to optimize the system and work with the bureaucracy to optimize it, as well as the tireless volunteers who worked in impossible conditions with inadequate tools and systems.

Although the McDougall Creek wildfire presented an unprecedented challenge, the reactionary stance of the government is evident. The minister mentioned ongoing enhancements. That begged the question, why weren't those systems robust to begin with?

So how could the system have been improved?

I went through the Okanagan Mountain Park fire of 2003. I remember going to the ESS with the other 30,000 evacuees who were all evacuated in one night it seemed.

You showed your driver’s license, they checked your name off the master list. They gave you hotel vouchers, food vouchers and asked if you were able to pack a bag. They had donated clothes there if you required them, along with a registration system for contacting you. That was it.

Those few days of support allowed my family to get to safety, find accommodations and food, and figure out our next steps. We never had to go back to the ESS, despite being out of our home for weeks. I never spoke to a single evacuee during that fire who found the system difficult or overbearing. It can be that simple.

Our Okanagan community deserves better. The government must be held accountable for its oversight, ensure prompt reimbursement for all and revamp the ESS system to be more efficient and compassionate. We owe it to our residents and to all of B.C. residents to ensure they're never let down like this again.

My question to you is this:

What improvements would you make to the ESS system?

I love hearing from you and I read every email. Please email me at [email protected] or call the office at 250-712-3620.

Renee Merrifield is the BC United MLA for Kelowna-Mission.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

Lessons to be learned from wildfire response

Responding to wildfires

"Out of difficulties grow miracles." — Jean de la Bruyere

In the face of adversity, a community’s spirit is truly tested.

The last few weeks have been a whirlwind of uncertainty, fear, and chaos, but with every dark night comes a bright day.

As we return to our homes, it’s essential not just to pick up the physical pieces but also to rebuild the spirit of our society, learning and preparing for the future. A lion's share of gratitude belongs to the incredible heroes who were our first line of defence and support.

The fire departments, firefighters worked tirelessly, showcased not just their professional excellence but also a commitment that goes beyond duty. Their courage was mirrored by countless volunteers who, despite personal losses and risks, stepped forward. Their selfless acts remind us we are truly stronger together. Their ceaseless dedication was the backbone of our emergency response.

It's was heartening to witness visits from Premier David Eby and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Their presence wasn’t just a sign of support but a beacon of hope for the investments needed for Kelowna area's resurgence. It's essential that these visits, filled with promises of support and financial pledges, translate into tangible actions and meaningful contributions.

As outlined by Kelowna’s mayor, and the chairman of the Regional District of Central Okanagan’s board, our community doesn’t just need temporary relief. We need a sustainable plan for prevention, preparedness and rapid response for any future adversities.

As we navigate the aftermath, it's crucial to remember the lessons this catastrophe has taught us.

We need to ask some important questions, such as, is there a better way to fight wildfires? The unity displayed by all the firefighters was remarkable, but could we have used more resources, and could we have used them earlier?

Are we doing everything we need to in our management of our forests? What can we do to reduce the number of wildfires, and keep them at bay where they interface with communities?

How can we best support our community during an evacuation? How do we expedite this process, and give more assistance to thosewho are out of their homes?

The volunteers were amazing, but the process was not able to accept the volume of evacuees in the timeframe necessary. We need to learn from this and move at a faster pace.

Preparation and community awareness are our best tools against future threats. Let’s champion investments in state-of-the-art firefighting equipment, robust emergency training for residents, and a detailed evacuation blueprint for every neighbourhood.

It’s imperative we don't just return to normalcy but evolve into a society better prepared, more united and profoundly grateful for the ties that bind us.

Our journey of recovery is just beginning, but with the heroes by our side and the lessons in our heart, there's no challenge that is too daunting.

My question to you is this:

What did you see or experience that B.C. needs to change about how this process was managed?

I love hearing from you and read every email. Please email me at [email protected] or call the office at 250-712-3620.

Renee Merrifield is the BC United MLA for Kelowna-Mission.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Renee Merrifield is the BC United MLA for Kelowna - Mission and the Opposition critic for Environment and Climate Change, as well as Gender, Equity and Inclusion.  She currently serves on the Select Standing Committee for Finance as well.

A long-time resident of Kelowna, Renee started, and continues to lead, many businesses from construction and development to technology. Renee is a compassionate individual who cares about others in the community, believes in giving back and helping those in need through service.

She values your feedback and conversation, and can be reached at [email protected] or 250.712.3620

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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